New models of securing customary land piloted in Zambia

The SULTS project is aimed at empowering the poor and marginalised communities to hold local leaders accountable in administration of customary land.

©Valerie Chibuyes

Women display their certificates during a meeting


The Dan Church Aid (DCA) partner, Zambia Land Alliance (ZLA), is piloting new ways of securing land rights and ownership for the majority of Zambia’s poor rural households through a project encouraging traditional chiefs to issue Customary Land Holding Certificates.
This came to light during a recent joint monitoring visit done by the European Union Delegation to the Republic of Zambia, Common Market for East and Southern Africa (COMESA), Joint Country Programme (JCP) and Zambia Land Alliance (ZLA) to Gwembe district in the Southern Province of Zambia.
The project called “Enhancing Sustainable Livelihoods for the Poor and Marginalised Households through Land Tenure Security (SULTS),” is aimed at empowering the poor and marginalised communities to hold local leaders accountable in administration of customary land.
Co-financed by the European Union and DCA, and implemented by ZLA in collaboration with associate partners, Gwembe District Land Alliance (GDLA) and Monze District Land Alliance (MDLA), the project, targeted over 4000 households in the Districts of Gwembe, Monze and Solwezi.

A local chief leads by example in his area

Chief Munyumbwe, a local traditional leader of the ‘Tonga’ ethnic group of Gwembe district in the Southern Province of Zambia, has since issued twenty Customary Land Holding Certificates (CLHC) to ten women and ten men in his Chiefdom in the past six months.
“I am very happy with this initiative of trying to empower our people,” said the Chief’s Representative and heir to the throne, Mr. Harrison Milambo, when the monitoring team paid a courtesy call at his residence. “It is really contributing to reduced boundary disputes among villagers in our area.”
Mr. Milambo explained that the certificates will strengthen the holders’ claim to customary land and support their demand for compensation in cases where customary tenure was converted to statutory tenure for purposes of development by the Government or investors.
Chief Munyumbwe is the first traditional leader to issue certificates under the project. He is also the first to allow use of village registers that capture land ownership information such as land size and location.

Certificates strengthen local people’s land rights

Ms. Sarah Moonga, a widow and mother of four, was one of the ten recipients of the certificates. She believes that the certificate has secured her rights to a piece of agricultural land for which it has been issued.
“This piece of land will help me a lot in my farming activities and I can work with a free mind knowing that my piece of land is secured,” she said.
Another single mother of three, Ms. Iden Misozi said she was once a victim of a land grabbing by her former husband. She explained that her knowledge of land rights motivated her to fight hard to get her land back.
“My ex-husband borrowed some money from some people and used my land as collateral and when he failed to pay back, he handed over my land to them. Luckily, I had a Customary Land Holding Certificate, which helped as evidence in my case and I got my land back through our local court,” she said in the local Tonga language.
She added: “I urge my fellow women to try and acquire land in their own right and make sure they have documentation for it. I also appeal to our Chiefs to protect us and make sure that women are not victimised.”
Over thirty community members who were met by the monitoring team, including one senior headman, five headmen and members of a local group called Community Land Advocacy Committee (CLAC), were positive that the certificate is strengthening their land rights, protects them from displacement and will also strengthen their case for compensation in case of displacement.

Challenges of the Customary Land Tenure system

Zambia has a dual land tenure system, which includes the Statutory Tenure and Customary Tenure. Though it is equally enshrined in the national constitution, the Customary Tenure is subordinate to Statutory Tenure and is not legally documented.
It is administered by traditional leaders based on local customs that are passed on from generation to generation and this makes its administration susceptible to corruption with the most vulnerable members of the community such as widows and orphans suffering high levels of displacement.
Before the SULTS project many villagers in the target areas did not have any hope of having their land rights documented. ZLA has been advocating for development of national legislation on administration of customary land for several years and their efforts contributed to the development of a draft bill on Customary Land Administration by Government in the period 2013/2014.
Since contents of the bill have not yet been made public and the bill is yet to be presented to Parliament for enactment into law the ZLA has focused on piloting new models of securing customary land such as the Customary Land Holding Certificates and village registers.

High demand for land certificates in targeted areas

More than 100 community members in a local community of Makuyu are registered in the village registers and there is an overwhelming demand among these to receive certificates. The SULTS project is targeting to distribute 500 certificates altogether in the three target districts of Gwembe, Monze and Solwezi by the end of the year.
The certificates are issued to villagers who are registered in the village register and whose piece of land has been mapped using Global Positioning System (GPS). The Chief’s council and the community members were heavily involved in defining the features on the certificates.